The big hand is on the “12.”
And the little hand is, well, you’ve known how to tell time since you were small. It’s something you do so naturally now that you probably don’t even think about it anymore. You just do it … but in the new novel, “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig (c.2017, Viking, $26, 328 pages), there’s so much more to tell.
Tom Hazard is old — over four hundred years old, and that’s all you need to know. If you knew anything more, you might have to die.
In the late 1800s, a doctor gave Tom’s affliction a name, but Hendrich, the man who “protects” Tom, calls him an “alba,” as in Albatross, a bird with rumored longevity and the name for the society Hendrich runs. But Tom doesn’t feel very protected; in fact, he doesn’t totally trust Hendrich. All Tom wants is to be back to as normal as he was in the year 1598.
He didn’t know Hendrich then. He only knew that, at age 26, he looked as though he was not yet a teenager and people noticed, accusing him of witchcraft. He’d fallen in love then; he and Rose were poor and happy and had a daughter but in 1599, he had to leave London to protect his family from the accusers.
That meant that Rose would die a cruel death filled with fever and sores but without Tom by her side. Her sister told him Rose was ill; he hurried to her, and before she breathed her last, she whispered a truth he’s carried for more than four centuries: their daughter, Marion, inherited his affliction.
Since then, Tom has scanned the faces of every young woman he sees, in Paris, Florida, London, Iceland. What would Marion look like now? Hendrich promises that the Albatross Society will find her, but Tom has his doubts. Heartbroken, depressed, and rightfully reserved, he has his doubts about a lot, including Marion. Is his daughter, his only family, his link to Rose, even still alive?
“How to Stop Time” is many things. It’s soft sci-fi. It’s history. It’s a mystery, literary tale, romance, and drama. And it’s also exceptionally good.
It takes a minute to get into it, though, beware: author Matt Haig starts in the middle, so don’t let a second of “Huh?” deter you from reading on. The story will make sense pretty quickly and – with its aching, Tom’s memories, and a gentle chase through the centuries — becomes irresistible even faster. It helps that this is an intriguing enough premise told with the kind of details that fans of time travel tales will relish although, of course, Haig takes license with some real-life characters. It turns out to be part of the appeal of this truly wonderful novel.
You may not think that this kind of book is “your thing,” but give it a try and you won’t be sorry. Fans of any kind of good story will love “How to Stop Time,” and you shouldn’t wait to get your hands on it, either.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.